College Football Bowl Projections: Week 8 Rankings and Playoff Forecast
There's a ton of action standing between today and the final College Football Playoff Top 25 rankings, but there is clear separation up top for now. Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Notre Dame are all undefeated, were each ranked in the top five of every single AP Top 25 ballot this week and are the obvious candidates to reach the playoff.
LSU, Michigan and Oregon made the biggest upward strides in the latest AP poll, which is reflected in the updated bowl projections below. Both the Tigers and the Ducks have moved up into New Year's Six bowls. The Wolverines were already projected for the Fiesta Bowl last week, but it now looks like they're headed for a more coveted spot in the Rose Bowl.
Conversely, West Virginia, Washington, Penn State, Wisconsin, Miami and Auburn all lost, plummeted in the rankings and slipped into less desirable spots in the bowl projections.
If Auburn doesn't win at Ole Miss this weekend—it opened as a 2.5-point favorite, so a win is hardly a given—it might not even become bowl-eligible. The Tigers are 4-3 with likely losses at Alabama and Georgia and a potential home loss to Texas A&M remaining. If they fail to reach six wins, it would be the first time that a preseason Top 8 team failed to play in a bowl game since Texas in 2010.
Read on for the full list of bowl projections heading into Week 8.
'Group of Five' Bowls
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Louisiana Tech
New Mexico Bowl: Fresno State vs. UAB
AutoNation Cure Bowl: Georgia Southern vs. Tulane
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Troy vs. Northern Illinois
Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl: Florida Atlantic vs. Eastern Michigan
DXL Frisco Bowl: Nevada vs. Toledo
Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Ohio vs. Florida International
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Boise State vs. Western Michigan
Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii vs. Marshall
Dollar General Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Buffalo
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Louisiana-Monroe vs. San Diego State
Without a close runner-up, the most intriguing projected game in this tier is the Dollar General Bowl between Appalachian State and Buffalo.
Since the season-opening overtime loss at Penn State, App State has won its four games by a combined score of 204-32, holding all four opponents below 10 points. If the Mountaineers continue that domination this week against Louisiana-Lafayette, they might crack the AP Top 25. They received 51 votes this week, trailing only Stanford (71), USC (53) and San Diego State (53) in the "Others Receiving Votes" section.
Buffalo didn't receive any votes this week, but it did become bowl-eligible by improving to 6-1 with a strong win over Akron.
Big-armed and big-bodied QB Tyree Jackson at least makes the Bulls compelling from an NFL scouting perspective. He finally flashed his rushing potential this past weekend with 57 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He hasn't run much at all since he suffered a leg injury in Week 4 last year, but that mobility makes him one of the most dangerous QBs in the country.
Let's also give a quick shout-out to the New Mexico Bowl. Fresno State and UAB are each 5-1 and have a combined point differential of plus-267. The Blazers have yet to allow more than seven points in three Conference USA games, and the Bulldogs have held back-to-back Mountain West foes to only one field goal each. This would be a great battle between two of the best Group of Five defenses.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 15): Utah vs. Utah State
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl (Dec. 20): Arizona State* vs. South Florida
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 22): Houston vs. Baylor
Birmingham Bowl (Dec. 22): BYU* vs. Memphis
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl (Dec. 26): Minnesota vs. North Texas
Military Bowl (Dec. 31): Cincinnati vs. Virginia
Walk-On's Independence Bowl (Dec. 27): Middle Tennessee* vs. Temple*
*Teams taking spots that conferences are unable to fill
Up until 2009, Utah and Utah State had a near-annual rivalry dating all the way back to 1900. While there have been 113 all-time meetings in this series, they have played each other only three times in the past nine seasons, the most recent of which came in 2015.
But if Utah State keeps averaging 52 points per game and wins the Mountain West Conference, the Utes and Aggies might square off in a bowl game for the first time ever, as the Las Vegas Bowl is designed to pit the fifth-best/fifth-most marketable Pac-12 team against the MWC champion. That type of decades-old rivalry game on the first day of bowl season could set the stage for a wild few weeks.
Elsewhere in this group, Houston vs. Baylor in Fort Worth, Texas, would figure to draw a big crowd, especially if Cougars defensive tackle Ed Oliver plays in the game rather than sitting out to prepare for the draft and avoid injury. (If he chooses the latter route, no one should fault him.)
We'll see if Baylor can get there, though. The Bears have already won three more games than they did last year, but they might not be favored in any of their remaining games. It would be a bummer for the program if that 4-2 start turns into a 4-8 season, but that kind of thing happens to at least one team almost every year.
Power Five Bowls with Potential
Cheez-It Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. USC
Quick Lane Bowl: Boston College vs. Purdue
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: TCU vs. Texas A&M
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Maryland vs. Syracuse
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Michigan State vs. Missouri
Belk Bowl: North Carolina State vs. Army*
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Colorado vs. Duke
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Auburn vs. Virginia Tech
Redbox Bowl: Northwestern vs. Stanford
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Iowa State vs. South Carolina
Because we have four SEC teams projected for New Year's Six bowls, the league can't come close to filling all of its other bowl spots. The most noteworthy vacancy is the Belk Bowl, where Army gets to play in its biggest game in decades. And the Black Knights aren't just there for the free swag. They could beat NC State, which hasn't had to game-plan for a triple-option offense since last facing Georgia Tech (allowing 479 rushing yards) back in 2014.
Then again, if the Wolfpack are able to upset Clemson this coming weekend, they might not be playing in a game anywhere near this tier.
One other team that may surge out of this group is USC.
The young Trojans got out to a rough start—particularly on offense—in the process of losing two of their first three games. But they have won three straight since then, and true freshman quarterback JT Daniels is starting to live up to the hype. He threw three touchdowns against Washington State and had another three just in the second quarter of Saturday's win over Colorado.
If the Trojans win at Utah in Week 8, they will become the overwhelming favorites to win the Pac-12 South Division. If they do, they'll be one win away from the Rose Bowl. But that might not be their most important game, since they host currently undefeated Notre Dame in the final week of the regular season. Could they knock the Fighting Irish out of the playoff picture?
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Valero Alamo Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Washington State
Camping World Bowl: Miami vs. West Virginia
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Washington
Citrus Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Penn State
Outback Bowl: Kentucky vs. Iowa
All five of these would be excellent games, but there's no question which two would get the most attention due to coaches facing their former employers.
In the Alamo Bowl, Mike Leach takes his current pass-happy offense against his former one in a bowl game that may well set the all-time record for combined passing yards. Washington State leads the nation in passing with 413.7 yards per game, and despite injuries at QB, Texas Tech ranks second at 373.3. The Cougars have a respectable pass defense, though, so maybe we wouldn't be blessed with well over 1,000 yards. Still, it'd be a fun, high-scoring affair.
In the Citrus Bowl, Joe Moorhead leads Mississippi State against the Nittany Lions, where he was the offensive coordinator for the past two seasons. Even if you can't be convinced to care about that dynamic, it shouldn't be difficult to get excited about watching Nick Fitzgerald and Trace McSorley take turns filling up the stat sheet with runs and passes. Just like the Alamo Bowl, this one could have all of the points, in spite of MSU's solid defense.
If you need a break from touchdown after touchdown, tune in to the Outback Bowl, where Iowa and Kentucky wage a war between elite defenses. The losing team in this bowl has been held below 20 points in each of the last three years, but it'd be surprising if even the winning team reaches that mark here.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Dec. 29): UCF vs. LSU
LSU dropped from No. 5 to No. 13 when it lost to Florida two weeks ago, but the Tigers catapulted right back to No. 5 with a 36-16 win over Georgia. Led by Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the Tigers ran the ball against Georgia like no team has in recent years. It's hard to believe this is the same squad that had rushing concerns in the preseason after losing Derrius Guice, Darrel Williams and Russell Gage. The defense, however, is what will keep the Tigers in the hunt for an SEC title.
While LSU was getting its third big win of the season, UCF increased its winning streak to 19 games with a come-from-behind victory over Memphis. It was hardly a vintage performance by the Knights, but a pair of 70-plus-yard TDs kept their hopes of another undefeated season alive. Expect a merciless beatdown of East Carolina this coming weekend to keep that train rolling.
Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Oklahoma vs. Georgia
A rematch of last year's double-overtime thriller in the Rose Bowl? Yes, please!
Georgia's playoff plans took a sizable hit with the Week 7 loss to LSU, but the Dawgs are still a strong candidate to win the SEC East Division and represent the conference in the Sugar Bowl. They have tough games ahead against Florida, Kentucky and Auburn, but they still control their own destiny and should win those contests.
It's a similar story for Oklahoma, which had Week 7 off to recover from the loss to Texas. The Sooners are down, but not quite out. They're still the most likely team to win the Big 12, as they should be favored in every remaining game. However, they'll need some help to get back into the playoff hunt.
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Michigan vs. Oregon
Aside from LSU, these were the two biggest winners from last weekend. Oregon won its second straight game against a ranked opponent, while Jim Harbaugh finally got his Wolverines to make a major statement.
For Michigan, it was just the beginning of a brutal second half of the season. After smashing Wisconsin, Shea Patterson and Co. draw Michigan State and Penn State next and finish the regular season at Ohio State. This might be the best team in the Big Ten, but winning the league and getting to the playoff will be extremely difficult. The Rose Bowl is a nice consolation prize if the Wolverines fall short, though.
And while Oregon can thank its atrocious nonconference schedule for the fact that it won't get into the playoff conversation, the Ducks may have usurped the title of "Best in the Pac-12" from Washington with that head-to-head victory. Finish off the sweep of the Washington schools with a road win over the Cougars this coming weekend and they'll become the clear favorite to win the conference and secure this spot in the granddaddy of bowls.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1): Florida vs. Texas
Two months ago, could you even imagine seeing these teams projected to square off in a New Year's Six bowl?
Texas opened the season at No. 23 in the AP poll, behind three other Big 12 teams and with no shortage of question marks. Even before the Longhorns kicked off the year with a loss to Maryland, nobody had them projected as a Top 12 team. And Florida was even less of a preseason threat, ranked second among "Others receiving votes"—good for seventh-best in the SEC.
But if either teams wins out, we may be talking about much more than just the New Year's Six. Each already has one colossal win to its credit and still has several remaining opportunities to impress the selection committee.
College Football Playoff
Goodyear Cotton Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Clemson
Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
National Championship: No. 1 Alabama over No. 2 Ohio State
This the same playoff quartet that we had projected one week ago, and the likelihood of these four teams competing for the title has since increased significantly.
That isn't because of anything they did, but rather because of all the carnage elsewhere.
Clemson had the week off while Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame each won at home against teams that might not win enough games to become bowl-eligible. Alabama looked strong in the process, as per usual. Notre Dame looked like a hot mess. Ohio State fell somewhere in between in a 16-point win that was much closer than that for most of the game. But they all remained undefeated, as was expected at the start of the day.
Meanwhile, Georgia was blown out by LSU, West Virginia's offense was downright awful against Iowa State and both Penn State and Washington picked up their second losses of the season in last-second fashion.
As a result, no one is all that close to joining this club of playoff favorites.
Given the relative strength of the remaining schedules, Georgia and Oklahoma appear to have the best odds. But Georgia would need to win games away from home against Florida, Kentucky and either Alabama or LSU, and Oklahoma needs to travel to face TCU, Texas Tech, West Virginia and probably Texas in the Big 12 championship game. In this case, best odds doesn't mean great odds.
Michigan, Texas and LSU are each firmly in the mix, too. If any member of that trio is able to win out and get to 12-1, it would arguably have a better resume than a 13-0 Clemson, but there are massive hurdles remaining for those teams to reach their respective conference championship games.
However, by no means are we suggesting to lock Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Clemson into the national semifinals and throw away the key.
At this time one year ago, Penn State and TCU were consensus projected playoff teams, while Clemson and Oklahoma weren't even ranked in the Top 6 of the AP poll. The Tigers and Sooners ended up with the top two seeds, while Penn State and TCU combined for five losses the rest of the way. A lot can and will change between now and the final CFP standings.
But until one of the four current favorites takes a loss, this group will remain head and shoulders above the field.
Bowl Games by Conference
The following teams are listed in alphabetical order within each conference.
American (7 teams): Cincinnati (Military Bowl), Houston (Armed Forces Bowl), Memphis (Birmingham Bowl), South Florida (Gasparilla Bowl), Temple (Independence Bowl), Tulane (Cure Bowl), UCF (Peach Bowl)
ACC (8 teams): Boston College (Quick Lane Bowl), Clemson (Cotton Bowl), Duke (Sun Bowl), Miami (Camping World Bowl), North Carolina State (Belk Bowl), Syracuse (Pinstripe Bowl), Virginia (Military Bowl), Virginia Tech (Gator Bowl)
Big 12 (8 teams): Baylor (Armed Forces Bowl), Iowa State (Liberty Bowl), Oklahoma (Sugar Bowl), Oklahoma State (Cheez-It Bowl), TCU (Texas Bowl), Texas (Fiesta Bowl), Texas Tech (Alamo Bowl), West Virginia (Camping World Bowl)
Big Ten (10 teams): Iowa (Outback Bowl), Maryland (Pinstripe Bowl), Michigan (Rose Bowl), Michigan State (Music City Bowl), Minnesota (Heart of Dallas Bowl), Northwestern (Redbox Bowl), Ohio State (Orange Bowl), Penn State (Citrus Bowl), Purdue (Quick Lane Bowl), Wisconsin (Holiday Bowl)
Conference USA (7 teams): Florida Atlantic (Boca Raton Bowl), Florida International (Bahamas Bowl), Louisiana Tech (New Orleans Bowl), Marshall (Hawaii Bowl), Middle Tennessee (Independence Bowl), North Texas (Heart of Dallas Bowl), UAB (New Mexico Bowl)
Independents (3 teams): Army (Belk Bowl), BYU (Birmingham Bowl), Notre Dame (Orange Bowl)
Mid-American (6 teams): Buffalo (Dollar General Bowl), Eastern Michigan (Boca Raton Bowl), Northern Illinois (Camellia Bowl), Ohio (Bahamas Bowl), Toledo (Frisco Bowl), Western Michigan (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl)
Mountain West (6 teams): Boise State (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Fresno State (New Mexico Bowl), Hawaii (Hawaii Bowl), Nevada (Frisco Bowl), San Diego State (Arizona Bowl), Utah State (Las Vegas Bowl)
Pac-12 (8 teams): Arizona State (Gasparilla Bowl), Colorado (Sun Bowl), Oregon (Rose Bowl), Stanford (Redbox Bowl), USC (Cheez-It Bowl), Utah (Las Vegas Bowl), Washington (Holiday Bowl), Washington State (Alamo Bowl)
SEC (10 teams): Alabama (Cotton Bowl), Auburn (Gator Bowl), Florida (Fiesta Bowl), Georgia (Sugar Bowl), Kentucky (Outback Bowl), LSU (Peach Bowl), Mississippi State (Citrus Bowl), Missouri (Music City Bowl), South Carolina (Liberty Bowl), Texas A&M (Texas Bowl)
Sun Belt (5 teams): Appalachian State (Dollar General Bowl), Arkansas State (New Orleans Bowl), Georgia Southern (Cure Bowl), Louisiana-Monroe (Arizona Bowl), Troy (Camellia Bowl)
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.